Riveting, the verb

March 30, 2009

I’m so glad I rarely, if ever, see movies in theaters, because I’m already a cranky old man, and I find myself getting outraged over money I might theoretically have spent to see it in a theater instead of watching the DVD for next to nothing.

I also wonder if I might not be completely out of touch with what constitutes an entertaining film, because I thought Iron Man was really boring. It made tons of money, and it got good reviews. I mean, it got good reviews beyond the “not bad for a super-hero movie” standard, almost like it was a film, or something.

I don’t really understand that. Aside from a cast with several Oscar winners and nominees and a script with snappier dialogue than usual (which isn’t a very high bar to vault over), I thought it was just as laborious as every other recent movie based on a super-hero property. Maybe I’m too nostalgic for the economy with which super-hero origin stories were originally told, but it seemed like it took forever for Tony Stark to do anything. Given the apparent complexity of the technology, I guess that’s fair, but had nobody ever heard of the montage? Or would that have been too cheesy for a movie about a drunken billionaire with a magnet in his sternum? (Of course, such economical measures might have resulted in the elimination of one of my favorite characters, the robot that kept spraying fire suppressant. I want a spin-off franchise, and I want it now.)

Why do all of these movies seem to plod? Why do they all seem so methodical and overly reverent when they should be snappy and fast-paced and fun?


For a few rubles more…

March 29, 2009

If, like me, you enjoyed Alex Sheikman’s four-issue series Robotika (Archaia Studios Press, 2007), you’ll be happy to learn that this beautifully illustrated cyberpunk Western will be returning to spinner racks everywhere in April. The new series, Robotika: For a Few Rubles More, initially debuted in 2008–right before ASP suspended operations for housekeeping and restructuring purposes. ASP is back in business, and will be releasing a special 64-page double issue of For a Few Rubles More that includes the first story plus new material and artwork. Sheikman’s made it very easy for you to order Robotika by creating a coupon that you can print and bring to you LCS.

Haven’t sampled the ASP catalog? Here are a few suggestions to get you started.


Pre-mortem

March 25, 2009

Over at The Beat, Heidi MacDonald reports the latest rumors of Borders’ imminent demise, which has been imminent for, what, a year now? She asks readers to ponder a world without the big-box bookseller.

For me as a consumer, the impact would be minimal. As I think I’ve said, the closest proper Borders brick-and-mortar is over an hour’s drive away, and while I always enjoy shopping there, I never rely on it for things I simply must have. It’s an impulse-buy setting. And while this is purely anecdotal, every time I’ve headed out to a Borders, wherever I happen to be, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t pass at least one Barnes & Noble on the way.

Is Barnes & Noble better in terms of selection? No, certainly not when compared to Borders at its peak. (I haven’t been to a Borders lately, so I can neither confirm nor contradict reports that the chain’s stock is thinning.) But I don’t think I’ve ever ordered from Borders online, partly because I didn’t see any need to go through the extra layer when they were partnered with Amazon, so I never got in the habit or came to consider it as a worthwhile online vendor like Amazon or Barnes & Noble. And I always found Borders’ discount program, reliant on the accumulation of points and narrow window to redeem rewards, inferior to Barnes & Noble’s, which is a flat discount with lots of coupons.

(At this point, I should probably mention something about WaldenBooks, but I haven’t been to the mall in about a year since I got new tires at Sears, so that’s no loss either. Are all malls kind of seedy and dilapidated at this point, or is it just the ones I’ve been to in the last two years or so?)

I hope it’s not just smart people who’ve developed an alternative strategy to Borders, because this has been a long time coming, and it may yet be a longer time coming. I swear I remember people talking about this in 2007, but maybe my memory is exaggerating. If anyone should be prepared, it’s Barnes & Noble, who should be poised to fill any market gaps Borders may leave behind. There were rumors that Barnes & Noble was actually considering buying Borders at one point, so if anyone is aware of the seriousness of Borders’ situation…

As for publishers, I never think it’s a good idea for them to be too dependent on one distribution outlet (cough… Diamond… cough). And the publishers I buy from most regularly generally aren’t dependent on one distribution outlet, so…

I would feel badly for anyone employed by Borders, obviously. But as a book shopper, it would be a fairly marginal loss for me.


Upcoming 3/25/2009

March 24, 2009

Have you ever had a trip planned and held off on bulking up an online book order because you thought, “Hey, there’s a great comic shop in (destination city), so surely I’ll be able to find (titles of books) there”? And then struck out completely? Or is that just me? Ah well. On to this week’s ComicList:

While the name of the protagonists are a bit odd (“Diamond”? “Rock”? Seriously? I feel like composing an SAT question.), I like the sound of Momoko Tenzen’s Manhattan Love Story (Juné). It’s about grown-up gay men with jobs, and you know I can rarely resist such comics, when I can find them. The cover is really striking too.

Drawn & Quarterly releases Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s massive biographical work, A Drifting Life, on Wednesday. It’s likely to be one of the books of the year, and certainly of the week.

For some well-written, slightly old-fashioned shôjo, look no further than the fifth volume of Yuu Asami’s A.I. Revolution (Go! Comi). It’s kind of like Absolute Boyfriend, except it doesn’t make your skin crawl.

Vertical continues to feed my sick fascination with creeply little Pinoko with the fourth volume of Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack.

And Viz slakes my thirst with the second volume of Oishinbo, the standard-bearer of culinary manga. This volume focuses on sake. In my experience, alcohol and journalists go together like peanut butter and chocolate, so this volume should be fun, even though I haven’t cared much for the sake I’ve tried.


Upon closer inspection

March 19, 2009

It’s trite but true that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression, but it’s also true that a second impression can really chip away at the goodwill generated by the first. For example, I liked the first volume of Miwa Ueda’s Papillon (Del Rey), but the second has me scratching my head. I can only liken the reading experience to being at a party, having an interesting chat with a new acquaintance, losing track of them as you mingle, and later overhearing them talk about how they burn their own hair clippings, use the ashes as the base for an under-eye night cream, and swear by it, just swear by it.

Okay, that’s probably overstating it, but the things that intrigued me about the debut volume are downplayed, and the worrying undercurrents are amplified and accelerated. Ueda shifts focus from the sibling rivalry between twins Ageha (country mouse) and Hana (city shrew) to Ageha’s simmering resentment towards her mother. It’s a fair enough shift, but their issues are resolved with a singular lack of subtlety. I don’t want to give away too much, but I have this personal rule that forbids me to pass up an opportunity to type the phrase “feigns a coma.” I’ll say no more.

Because really, why dwell on a manufactured medical crisis as bonding opportunity when I can fixate on my mounting dislike of Ageha’s guidance counselor, Hayato? There’s the strong suggestion that he’s some kind of instinctive genius under his lecherous, perhaps actionably incompetent exterior, and his zany schemes do actually seem to yield positive results, but only a gifted seer could have foreseen any positive outcomes from them. (Again: “feigns a coma.”)

But even his bumbling takes a back seat to his grossness. Unpredictable as many of the second-volume twists may be, you can see Ageha’s attraction to Hayato coming from a mile away, and the anticipation is not pleasant. Because you just know that nothing in his nature resembles clinical distance or therapeutic ethics. The course that covered transference must have been among the many Hayato slept through during his college years.

I admit, though, that the bizarre shift in tone and approach between Papillon’s first and second volumes makes me perversely eager to read the third. Maybe an alien will burst out of Hana’s abdomen and begin eating the rest of the cast. You just don’t know for sure.

(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)


Upcoming March 18, 2009

March 17, 2009

I love a Wednesday that makes it rough to select a pick of the week. This week’s ComicList is a cornucopia of crack.

I thought Saika Kunieda’s Future Lovers (Deux Press) was a one-shot, which was pretty much the book’s only disappointing aspect. I was happily mistaken, and a second volume about a mismatched but devoted couple is due out Wednesday. I love comics about grown-up gay men in actual relationships.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Anything Fanfare/Ponent Mon releases in English is automatically a contender for the week’s best release, and My Mommy Is in America and She Met Buffalo Bill, by Jean Regnaud & Émille Bravo, will likely do nothing to buck that trend.

Tokyopop can’t be entirely sanguine about the release of the final penultimate volume of Natsuki Takaya’s uber-shôjo masterpiece, Fruits Basket. I can’t say I’m thrilled either, but I know that we’ll all get through this together. As to content, I would hazard a guess that, in this volume, all of the characters find their lives becoming less alienating and difficult to varying degrees. I would also hazard a guess that I will sob.

Viz picks up the baton of miserable adolescence with the launch of the VizBig edition of Miki Aihara’s Hot Gimmick. This book is emphatically not for everyone, and I don’t say that in a condescending “Your tastes might not be refined enough to enjoy this” kind of way. I say it in a “Really horrible, anti-feminist things happen in this book from beginning to end, and you will likely want to scrub your brain clean after reading it, but it’s addictively crafted” way.

On the Signature front, the second volume of Pluto, Naoiki Urasawa’s homage to Osamu Tezuka, arrives.


Extracurricular

March 16, 2009

Yes, you are, Kureha.

Yes, you are, Kureha.

Sometimes it’s nice to be able to look at a series from beginning to end, y’know? Because you never know when a series is going to go horribly off the rails into complete madness. Sometimes, it can happen between the first and second volumes. Or even just turn into something very different (not necessarily for the worse, but you know what I mean) between the first and second volumes.

So this week’s Flipped is devoted to one of those series that’s a solid, often inspired work from beginning to end. Or at least very, very close to the end, but I don’t know what I would have done differently.


Paging Angie Dickinson!

March 14, 2009

yamato_highheelcopNow that CMX has begun publishing the ridiculously entertaining Fire Investigator Nanase (a glorious mash-up of Firefighter! Daigo of Fire Company M, Silence of the Lambs, and Quincy, ME, if that’s possible), I’m thinking they might want to expand their roster of tough cookies to include Waki Yamato’s High-Heeled Cop (variously translated as Shin High-Heeled Cop and Hi-Heel Cop). There’s precious little information about this series (in English, anyway), but with a title like that, how can you go wrong? If Angie Dickinson was still making femmesploitation movies, I’d wager it would be a terrific vehicle for her.

And while I’m at it, would it be too much to ask of an American publisher to license Yamato’s Yokohoma Monogatori, NY Komachi, or Haikara-san ga Toru? I’ve all but given up on other classic shojo titles (you know the suspects: The Song of the Wind in the Trees, The Rose of Versailles), but perhaps there’s hope here…


Gridlock

March 12, 2009

I live in a town with horrible traffic issues. I know… who doesn’t? And over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d rather drive 20 miles out of my way and keep moving than sit in traffic go nowhere, or worse, frequently stop and start without making any meaningful forward progress.

I don’t read that many pamphlet comics, and I think there’s some carry-over from my disposition as a motorist. Not too long ago, I tried a monthly comic that had gotten very good reviews, and I may someday enjoy it in collected form, but the two issues I picked up on the same shop visit confirmed that 20-odd pages with ads is not a satisfying delivery system for me.

In fact, the advertisements almost made me lose my mind. Here’s the breakdown for the first issue, with actual content in italics:

Cover.
Inside cover advertisement.
Four pages of story.
Two pages of advertisements.
Four pages of story.
Two pages of advertisements.
Four pages of story.
Two pages of advertisements.
Four pages of story.
Two pages of advertisements.
Six pages of story.
Two pages of advertisements.
Back inside cover advertisement.
Back cover advertisement.

The four-two-four-two pattern was positively Zen-like compared to the jumble of the second issue. At one point, one page of story was sandwiched between two pages of advertisements. I imagine this is because there were a certain number of advertisers who wanted right-side pages, which forced the layout department to hack up the story in a way that would accommodate the advertisers. But seriously, just throw the page in the trash, why don’t you? Its contents are 90% lost anyways.

I get that it’s a business and some publishers who deal in pamphlet comics rely on advertising revenue, but I found the constant stop-and-start maddening. At least television producers can rely on commercial breaks coming at regular intervals and they can write their beats accordingly. They can even build internal cliffhangers into a half-hour or hour-long program and use the interruptions to their advantage.

But how is a comic writer supposed to know how their story will flow after the ads are inserted in ways that have nothing to do with narrative momentum or even logic? Why would writers even try, unless they were doing some work-for-hire product tie-in where it’s all advertising to begin with? (“Now, after those three pages, there’s a maze where Grimace has to find the three daily servings of fruit.”) And how’s an artist supposed to know that their illustrations stand a chance of leading the reader’s eye in the way they want when one of their sequences is bound to be chopped into thirds by things completely discordant with their visual style? Seriously, even if the ads aren’t hideous, and a lot of them are, the flow suffers.

So yeah, no more floppies with ads for me, because that just grated on my nerves. I’ve been spoiled by digests. The closest thing I’ve found to an advertisement in the actual story of a manga paperback is Yuu Watase telling her readers to buy the soundtrack from the Ceres anime because it made her cry.


Upcoming 3/11/2009

March 10, 2009

A quick look at this week’s ComicList:

I really, really need to do a big catch-up-on-CMX Amazon order at some point in the near future. This week sees the arrival of the seventh volume of Tomomi Yamashita’s Apothecarius Argentum. I really enjoyed the early volumes of this series, created by a manga-ka who trained as a pharmacist, which almost automatically makes it awesome, and the actual content (an interesting story and attractive art) cements the perception.

Even more generously, CMX delivers the eighth volume of Kaoru Mori’s Emma, featuring more short stories about supporting characters. I adored Mrs. Stowner, so I’m especially eager for that chapter. And honestly, even if the book only contained the handful of pages of author notes, it would still be worth $9.99.

It seems to be a pretty good week for those of a nostalgic bent. Even I might not be able to resist the fourth volume of Showcase Presents: Justice League of America, as it collects the introductions of Black Canary and Red Tornado, and they were always two of my favorite members. (And writing their names together, it sounds like some super-tense checkers match on ESPN 13, or something.) I don’t think I actually ever read the stories that featured them joining, but as with the Avengers, I always preferred the cast members who didn’t have anywhere else to appear, allowing the writers to go all soapy with them. I do vaguely remember that DC used to let readers vote on who joined the team next, though even as a child I suspected that they ignored the actual tallies if editorial fiat demanded it. I mean, what else can explain the exclusion of Captain Comet?

Kind of a lean week, really, but Mori makes up for it.


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